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The Kenai Peninsula
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The Kenai Peninsula

Introduction

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge & Chugach National Forest

Seward Highway (AK1/AK9)--Seward to Portage

Hope

Seward

Kenai Fjords National Park

Sterling Highway (AK1)--Seward Highway Junction to Homer

Northwest Kenai

Soldotna

Kenai

Ninilchik

Homer

Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Area

Seldovia


Seward

Location/Climate: 128 road miles south of Anchorage at head of Resurrection Bay on southeast coast of Kenai Peninsula. 66"/yr. precip., 80"/yr. snowfall, 17°F–63°F.

Population: 3,034 (15.2 percent native, mainly Tanaina).

Travel Attractions: Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, tours, rentals, outfitters, charming town.

Getting There: Vehicle access via Seward Highway (AK 9 and AK 1); scheduled ferry service from Homer, Valdez; regular air service from Anchorage and other points.

Information: Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 749, Seward, AK 99664; Visitor Center, 2001 Seward Highway, 224-8051, www.seward.net/chamber, open daily Memorial Day–Labor Day, weekdays otherwise; Information Cache, 3rd and Jefferson (in railcar), www.kenaipeninsula.com/Seward.html.

Seward is the only town on the south coast of the Kenai Peninsula. As a port, it serves commercial, recreational, and fishing boats, as well as ferry and cruise ships. The town is known as a base for boat tours into Kenai Fjords National Park, but is also a travel destination in its own right, offering shops, accommodations, beach strolling, parks, and restaurants. There are great opportunities for kayaking, fishing, and hiking in the area. Exit Glacier is nearby.

Seward was founded in 1902 by surveyors for the Alaska Railroad, though it didn’t become established until the actual construction occurred between 1915 and 1923. It was named for U.S. Secretary of State William Seward—the man who secured Alaska from the Russians and whose name suddenly seemed worth honoring after the discovery of gold. It has been an important shipping center ever since and played a vital role as a supply center during World War II. Tsunamis from the 1964 earthquake wrecked terminal facilities and killed several residents.

The setting for Seward is the mountain-rimmed, wildlife-rich Resurrection Bay, named by Alexander Baranof in 1791 when he saught shelter here during a storm on the Russian Sunday of the Resurrection. The bay is strategically located as an ice-free, deepwater port. Otters, whales, and seals are frequently seen in the foreground as fishing vessels, tour boats, cargo ships, or ferries pass behind.

In addition to Caines Head State Park (see Coastal Trail, below), five undeveloped state marine parks (S.M.P.) are located on either side of the Resurrection Peninsula, which bounds the bay to the east. Thumb Cove S.M.P. is directly across from Caines Head, below Porcupine Glacier; Sandspit Point S.M.P. and Sunny Cove S.M.P. are on Fox Island at the bay’s head; and Driftwood Bay S.M.P. and Safety Cove S.M.P. are on Day Harbor on the east side of the peninsula. All the parks are accessible only by water, offer no designated camping or other facilities, and are used primarily as fishing anchorages or kayak destinations.

Though it can be crowded with cruise tourists (count the moored ships as you arrive in town and multiply by 1,000), Seward is an active and historical town and is definitely worth a walkabout. Kenai Fjords tour-boat activity and the associated tourist commerce is centered at the small boat harbor, half a mile north of downtown. The visitor center, museum, ferry terminal, and many businesses are found on or near the south end of Third Avenue (Seward Highway), Seward’s main street. Ballaine Boulevard follows the water past a pleasant town campground. The easy Two Lakes Trail makes a nice 1/2-mile loop, starting a block north of A Street from 1st Avenue and returning to 2nd Avenue north of Van Buren.

Things to See and Do in Seward

Alaska SeaLife Center—This outstanding and brand new facility is ". . . dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska through research, rehabilitation, and public education." Most of the $50 million spent to build it came from the Exxon Valdez oil-spill settlement. Steller sea lions, harbor seals, marine birds, and fish are exhibited. 301 Railway Avenue, (800) 224-2525, 224-6300, www.alaskasealife.org, open daily in summer 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., winter 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $12.50 (less for kids).

Coastal Trail (4.5 miles, no gain)—Follow the coast road from the south end of town to Lowell Point. From here, the trail follows the coast to a good campsite and access to the World War II bunkers of Caines Head State Park. Stretches of the route can only be covered at low tide—plan to start the hike about two to 2H hours before the scheduled low tide if you want to do it as a day hike. Watch for otters, seals, and eagles—and consider the advantages of kayaking the same coastal stretch. RT—all day.

Iditarod National Historic Trail—Though the Iditarod dogsled race goes only from Anchorage to Nome, the original route taken by hopeful gold seekers began in Seward. The trail is marked from the ferry terminal and follows the road through town to Nash Road before it becomes a true trail. The route parallels Sawmill Creek, the train tracks, and the Seward Highway north. There are better hikes.

Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center—If time permits, stop here before you take your boat tour or head off for a kayak or backpack drop-off. It’s located in the small boat harbor. 1212 4th Avenue, 224-3374, www.nps.gov/kefj; open daily Memorial Day–Labor Day, weekdays in the winter.

Mount Marathon Trail (2 miles, 3,000' gain)—This route is the scene of the annual July 4th Mount Marathon Race, in which kamikaze racers struggle to a high spur on the mountain’s flank then hurtle pell-mell down the gravely slope to the finish—bruised and battered, but hopefully conscious. You can take the same route from the trailhead at the end of Lowell Street (Jefferson Street) near the water tanks. Great views! RT—4–6 hours.

Seward Museum—Local heritage displays cover the 1964 earthquake, Seward history, and native culture. The museum is operated by the Resurrection Bay Historical Society, Jefferson and 3rd, 224-3902; open May–mid-October daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., call for winter hours. Admission is $2.

Where to Stay in Seward

Alaska Point of View Reservation Service, (800) 844-2424, 224-2323, www.alaskasview.com. A series of automated cues leads to detailed information on many options and instant connection to the one you choose. Have 10 minutes available.

Hotel Seward (Best Western), 221 5th Avenue, (800) 528-1234 or (800) 478-4050 (AK only), 224-2378. $150 and up. Nicest hotel in Seward. Near ferry dock.

Moby Dick Hostel, 432 Third Avenue, 224-7072. Great location right in town. Beds are $16.50.

Van Gilder Hotel, 308 Adams Street, (800) 204-6835, 224-3079. $95–$120 with private bath, $75 with shared bath. National Historic Site. Open May 15–October 1.

Where to Eat in Seward

Harbor Dinner Club, 220 5th Avenue, 224-3012. Seafood, steaks, prime rib, and great clam chowder.

Peking Restaurant, 338 4th Avenue, 224-5444. Open until 10 p.m. Tasty Chinese.

Ray’s, Seward Boat Harbor, 224-5606. Seafood, cocktails, nice harbor view.

Resurrect Art Coffee House Gallery, 320 3rd Avenue (an old church), 224-7161. For a shot of art with your coffee and snacks, this is the place.